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Ten Best Steve McQueen Movies

Steve McQueen was the king of Hollywood cool in the 1960s and ’70s. The Great Escape, The Sand Pebbles, The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt, The Cincinnati Kid, Papillon and The War Lover are his top films.

The Great Escape 1970s Australian daybill poster image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries

Terence Steven McQueen (1930-1980) appeared in a total of 28 feature-length films during his distinguished Hollywood career. McQueen made his motion picture debut in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), in the uncredited role of Fidel. In 1958, McQueen garnered his first starring role as teenager Steve Andrews in the science fiction cult classic The Blob.

Here are ten outstanding movies that no Steve McQueen fan should ever miss. Put on your racing helmet, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

The Great Escape (United Artists, 1963)

Steve McQueen plays Captain Virgil Hilts a.k.a. “The Cooler King,” a spunky, irrepressible American officer determined to bust out of the special German POW camp now holding him and his fellow Allied escape artists. McQueen, with his omnipresent baseball glove and ball, delivers an outstanding performance in a movie loaded with top-of-the-line stars, including James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. Although Bud Ekins performed the spectacular 60-foot motorcycle jump over a barbed wire fence, McQueen did much of his own riding in the film, including one sequence where he plays a German soldier whose motorcycle is tripped up by a wire laid across the road by none other than McQueen’s Lt. Hilts.

  • Great McQueen line (directed at Richard Attenborough’s Roger “Big X” Bartlett, who calls him Virgil): “Hilts. Just make it Hilts.”
  • Director: John Sturges
  • On DVD: The Great Escape 2-Disc Collector’s Set (MGM, 2004)

The Sand Pebbles (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1966)

Steve McQueen stars as Jake Holman, an American sailor assigned to the gunboat USS San Pablo. While patrolling the waterways of mainland China in 1926, engineer McQueen and his shipmates get caught up in the ongoing Chinese revolution. Also complicating matters is rebel McQueen’s personal distaste for Captain Collins (Richard Crenna) and his budding romance with American missionary Shirley Eckert (Candice Bergen).

  • Academy Award nomination for Best Actor
  • Great McQueen line (directed at Captain Collins, who threatens to shoot him for mutiny): “Well shoot something!”
  • Director: Robert Wise
  • On DVD: The Sand Pebbles Two-Disc Special Edition (20th Century-Fox, 2007)

The Magnificent Seven (United Artists, 1960)

Steve McQueen plays gunslinger Vin, one of seven American mercenaries led by Yul Brynner who are hired to rid a Mexican village of marauding bandits. McQueen more than holds his own in a crackling western that also features such talent as Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter and Horst Buchholtz. Elmer Bernstein’s famous music score only adds to the movie’s allure, making it one of McQueen’s most memorable productions.

  • Great McQueen line: “We deal in lead, friend.”
  • Director: John Sturges
  • On DVD: The Magnificent Seven Special Edition (MGM, 2001)

Bullitt (Warner Bros./Seven Arts, 1968)

Steve McQueen plays the title character Frank Bullitt, a San Francisco police lieutenant assigned to protect mob stoolie Johnny Ross. A couple of hit men burst into the room at the Hotel Daniels where Ross is stashed, shooting him and police detective Carl Stanton. McQueen as Lt. Bullitt springs into action, trying to determine which mob boss ordered the contract on Ross. There’s plenty of action in this one, including the famous car chase scene featuring McQueen in a dark green 1968 Ford Mustang 390 CID Fastback pursuing a black Dodge Charger over the hilly streets of San Francisco. McQueen managed to do the bulk of the driving, with Bud Ekins filling in for the more dangerous stunts. Add the beautiful Jacqueline Bisset as McQueen’s gal pal and Robert Vaughn as an ambitious politician, and Bullitt burns rubber like no other crime drama.

  • Great McQueen line (on the hotel hit men): “Shotgun and a backup man, professionals.”
  • Director: Peter Yates
  • On DVD: Bullitt Two-Disc Special Edition (Warner, 2005)

Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt, image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries

The Cincinnati Kid (MGM, 1965)

Steve McQueen plays Eric Stoner a.k.a. The Cincinnati Kid who comes to New Orleans to take on Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson), the reigning king of stud poker. McQueen plays the cocky Kid to near perfection, disarming a knife-wielding opponent in one scene and betting the entire store on a full house during a marathon poker session with the wily Robinson. Aiding and abetting McQueen’s performance are Karl Malden, Ann-Margret, Tuesday Weld and Rip Torn.

  • Great McQueen line: “Listen, Christian, after the game, I’ll be The Man. I’ll be the best there is. People will sit down at the table with you, just so they can say they played with The Man.”
  • Director: Norman Jewison
  • On DVD: The Cincinnati Kid (Warner, 2005)

Papillon (Allied Artists, 1973)

Steve McQueen portrays the real-life Henri Charriere a.k.a. Papillon, who plots his escape from the infamous penal colony at French Guiana in the 1930s and ’40s. McQueen is mesmerizing as the irrepressible Papillon as he endures the tropical hell of Devil’s Island, including several stints at St. Joseph’s where strict silence and a plunge into total darkness nearly drive him insane. Papillon affords McQueen one of the best performances of his career, with Dustin Hoffman ably assisting him in the role of counterfeiter Louis Dega.

  • Great McQueen line: (whispered to his captors while in isolation): “Hey, you bastards. I’m still here.”
  • Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
  • On DVD: Papillon (Warner, 2005)

The War Lover (Columbia, 1962)

Steve McQueen plays Captain Buzz Rickson, a callous, hotshot American bomber pilot flying out of England in World War II. Rickson is one of the best fliers in the squadron, piloting his B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed “The Body” in a series of perilous missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. On the ground Rickson competes for the affections of pretty British lass Daphne Caldwell (Sally Anne Field), eventually losing out to his more stable co-pilot Lt. Ed Bolland (Robert Wagner). McQueen’s arrogant Buzz Rickson certainly lives up to the film’s title, a combination hero/psychopath who later buys the farm, crashing his bomber sans crew into the white cliffs of Dover.

  • Great McQueen line: “What’s the matter, Bolland, afraid to die?”
  • Director: Philip Leacock
  • On DVD: The War Lover (Columbia, 2003)

The Getaway (National General, 1972)

Steve McQueen plays Carter “Doc” McCoy, a Texas inmate who wins parole following the intervention of corrupt businessman Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson). As part of Benyon’s deal, Doc must now pull a bank heist with two of his confederates. The bank job goes awry, with Doc and his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw) grabbing the loot and taking off for Mexico with one of their bloodied partners in hot pursuit. Steve McQueen and girlfriend Ali MacGraw, who were later married from 1973-78, make a dandy criminal team on the lam and hell-bent for south of the border.

  • Great McQueen line (directed at Ali MacGraw’s Carol who is driving): “Punch it, baby!”
  • Director: Sam Peckinpah
  • On DVD: The Getaway Deluxe Edition (Warner, 2005)

Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw in The Getaway, lobby card image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries

Love with the Proper Stranger (Paramount, 1963)

Steve McQueen plays Rocky Papasano, a young, struggling musician who impregnates Catholic girl Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood). Rocky doesn’t quite remember Angie, but eventually attempts to do ”the right thing” and asks the strong-willed Angie to marry him, a proposal she turns down. This is one of McQueen’s rare offbeat roles, with his New York Actors Studio training put to excellent use.

  • Great McQueen line (directed at Natalie Wood’s Angie, who has just informed him that she is pregnant): “Congratulations.”
  • Director: Robert Mulligan
  • On DVD: Not currently available in commercial format

Le Mans (National General, 1971)

Steve McQueen plays Michael Delaney, an American Grand Prix driver participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans road race. One of his chief rivals is Erich Stahler (Siegfried Rauch), with the two battling each other at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour. Le Mans was racing enthusiast McQueen’s pet project, with the actor actually getting onto the track and putting a Porsche 917 through its paces. Elga Andersen as Lisa Belgetti provides the beautiful European scenery amidst the high-pitched whine of Porsches and Ferraris. Macho McQueen does Le Mans, and does it well.

  • Great McQueen line: “When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.”
  • Director: Lee H. Katzin
  • On DVD: Le Mans (Paramount, 2003)

Five More Steve McQueen Movie Gems

  • Hell Is For Heroes (1962)
  • Soldier in the Rain (1963)
  • Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965)
  • The Reivers (1969)
  • Junior Bonner (1972)
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2 Comments
  1. Posted December 29, 2009 at 3:30 am

    “The Magnificent Seven” & “The Great Escape” – that’s funny Will! I was helping my dad clean out the basement yesterday, and he has these two movies LOL I have the weekend off so I might borrow them (if he’ll let me). Another great movie-bio William:)

  2. Posted December 29, 2009 at 3:57 am

    Well, Mila, your dad sure has good taste in movies. The Great Escape, especially, is an aborbing film. James Coburn plays an Australian POW. Well, his Aussie accent is a bit off but he tries.

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